Friday, March 23, 2012

Barefoot Running and the Minimalism Shoe Trend

Does it take more work to run in sneakers or barefoot?

Here's research that goes somewhat against the grain of the barefoot running trend that's sweeping away runners across the nation. The general argument posited by the barefoot proponents is that running barefoot is the way nature intended. What's more, they claim that running shoes have too much foam, rubber, cushioning, technology, etc under foot which results in poor proprioception (the natural ability of your body to "feel" the surface under foot then instantly adapting the whole body and muscular system to adapt to that surface).

Vibram (a pioneer in the barefoot movement. Their FiveFingers line of shoes have become the banner of truth for barefooters) has been sponsoring a bunch of research over the last couple years that has, not surprisingly, concluded that going barefoot is in fact healthier, more efficient, lowers running injuries, etc.

Another study was recently published online in the journal of Medicine and Sciences in Sports & Exercise. This study, conducted by the fine researchers over at the Univ of Colorado, Boulder, found that running shoes (albeit lightweight, 150oz shoes) were more efficient then running barefoot. In other words, the physiological effort required by barefoot running is actually higher than running in a thin soled, lightweight running shoe.

The researchers surmised that one possible reason was the fact that the human body is incredibly adaptable. They believe that with the added cushioning of the running shoe, the finely tuned body of each runner in the study was able to almost instantly adapt to the cushioning. In other words, when running barefoot, many muscles in the legs are activated to absorb each impact. However, with the foam in a running shoe, the foam can absorb some of the impact, requiring less "shock absorption" by the leg.

As noted in the book, "Biomechanics of Distance Running", almost all the energy used when running is to keep the body off the ground, rather than moving it forward. Inertia keeps the body moving, but something needs to keep the body off the ground in order for inertia to move it forward. This is where your legs come in play.

Since your legs are working to keep your body up, "in the air", it makes sense that anything that minimizes the physiological effort required to do so would be a step in the right direction. As such, a minimalist approach to footwear makes a lot more sense rather than going completely barefoot. And this study supports that.

Read the jump below for the full article.

Source: NY Times